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5/20/15

Turkish Elections: Ahead of Turkey's Crucial Election, Citizens Take Action to Protect Their Vote - by Karabekir Akkoyunlu

Many things are at stake in Turkey's upcoming parliamentary poll on June 7: Will the Kurds overcome the world's highest election threshold of 10% to enter the parliament as a party for the first time? Or will the governing Justice and Development Party (AKP) win enough seats to change the constitution and introduce the system of strong presidentialism that President Tayyip Erdoğan has long wanted?

It is a historic moment where a single vote could possibly shape the course of Turkey's bloodiest conflict and its future regime type, with repercussions beyond the country's borders. With so much hanging on the outcome, this is also a crucial test for Turkey's embattled electoral system.

Turkey has never become an 'advanced' democracy: For decades, political contestation took place in the shadow of military tutelage, now being replaced with an illiberal populism under Erdoğan and the AKP. Its record on civil liberties and human rights has been bleak. Yet ever since the country held its first competitive multiparty election in 1950, the ballot box has taken on a quality as one of Turkey's few non-contested institutions to the point of becoming sacrosanct.

Politicians have routinely accepted defeat and handed over power peacefully. Turnout has been traditionally high, as well as popular trust in declared results. The fact that it has preserved this most basic democratic institution despite all other shortcomings has set Turkey apart from many of its neighbors, where elections have been thoroughly rigged or did not take place at all.

That core institution is now in jeopardy. A major survey has found that public trust in the electoral process has deteriorated sharply: only 48% believe that the upcoming poll will be conducted fairly (comparable to the level of trust for elections in Russia), down from 70% in 2007 (on par with the US). The OSCE has cited concerns about fairness and transparency and recommended appointing observers for the June election.

In part, this is a result of the country's deepening political polarization and party tribalism. It also reflects the rising number of fraud allegations at polling stations in recent elections. In an insecure political atmosphere driven by wild conspiracy theories, high level corruption scandals and judicial vendettas that can land the losers in prison, more voters appear convinced that office holders will do whatever necessary to hold on to power.

Read more: Ahead of Turkey's Crucial Election, Citizens Take Action to Protect Their Vote | Karabekir Akkoyunlu

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